November 12, 2009

Getafilm Gallimaufry: This Is It, Wild Things, Flute-Playing Goat & Tyler Perry

[Note: This series includes scattered thoughts on various movie-related topics. I was looking for a word that started with the letter "g" that means collection or assortment, but lest you think I'm some elitist wordsmith, know that I'd never heard of "gallimaufry" and I don't even know how to say it, but it was the only other option the thesaurus provided aside from "goulash" (too foody) and "garbage" (no).]

There's a reason why more music critics than film critics were called on to review This Is It: a good 90% of the footage in this documentary is singing and dancing, not storytelling. You should know that if you're not already a Michael Jackson fan, because if you aren't then I imagine This Is It would be about as enjoyable as a John Tesh concert film (and if you don't like MJ then one can reasonably assume your musical tastes are that...tragic).

The truth is that there is almost no insight whatsoever to be drawn about the King of Pop from This Is It; it's simply two hours of evidence that Michael Jackson was one of the greatest performers to step onto a stage. Ever. But we already knew that, and as the closest most of us will come to ever seeing him in concert, This Is It couldn't be any more thrilling. The music is just as intoxicating as always, the dancing is just as breathtaking as always, and the passion on display from Jackson (particularly on "Earth Song" and "They Don't Really Care About Us", two of my favorites from the underrated HIStory album), is just as emotionally explosive as always. 

Furthermore, This Is It proves beyond any doubt that Jackson was not an aloof, air-headed, strung out mannequin - at least not on stage. His concentration is incredibly and consistently intense; he not only coordinates every one of his breaths, emotions, muscle movements, notes, and transition cues, but everyone else's breaths, emotions, muscle movements, notes, and transition cues. It's shocking to consider how many processes this man's mind could coordinate simultaneously.

The two regrets I'll carry with me from This Is It are that 1.) I didn't see it with a packed theater audience that may have made for a more interactive experience, and 2.) I'll never see Michael Jackson in concert, which may be for the best because for the first time in my life I think I understand how those hysterical people in the front row could entirely lose themselves in the moment.


How can you fairly and accurately illustrate the collective memory of a generation? You can't, obviously, but Spike Jonze must have considered that question while he produced Where the Wild Things Are. Most people (or maybe only most Americans) between the ages of 20-40 read the book at some point during their childhood, yet I think it would be surprisingly challenging to find a consensus on why everyone enjoyed it. 

Some people loved the beasts. Some people felt like Max, lonely and misunderstood. Some people loved the jungle setting. Some people loved the idea of an imagination run wild. Some people loved the happy ending between Max and his family. Me? I guess I liked the mystery of it all, and the fun of thinking about some magical place under the moon. The picture here sums up that sentiment pretty well, and that's what I was hoping for from the movie. But that's not what I got, at least not entirely.

The spectacular cinematography, production design and visual effects in Where the Wild Things Are are among the best I've seen all year, primarily because they are so understated. As Jason Bellamy brilliantly observed in his review, "I didn’t realized how much I’d come to miss environmental tangibility in movies until I watched Jonze’s film...There’s an intimacy to these images that CGI-dominated films never match."

But while this movie had the visual magic down for me, I never felt any emotional connection to Max or any of the monsters, at least not outside of their childlike joy while running through the woods. The brooding and fuming and bickering that made up the rest of the film left me cold, and wondering if I had completely misinterpreted the book so many years ago. But how do you misinterpret a picture book?

I don't think you can - you can only interpret one differently from another person. Right?


300 and the Flute-Playing Goat?

I managed to successfully avoid seeing 300 a couple of years ago when everybody was raving about it. I don't find violence all that enjoyable to watch, no matter how "aesthetically beautiful" Zack Snyder made it, so it was an easy skip.

I came across it on TNT  a few weeks ago, however, and found myself in the middle of a really bizarre scene. I had to look it up to see who the characters were, but this was evidently an exchange between Leonidas and some creature named Ephialtes, who the historical record shows to be a hunchback but who Snyder portrays as a literal beast alien pregnant with twins in his left shoulder.

Anyway, in the midst of this nearly unwatchable scene my eyes caught a quick glimpse of what appeared to be a goat playing the flute. It didn't really compute because I didn't think this was a science-fiction story, but at the same time I felt ignorant enough about the movie to assume that it may have been explained at another point. I wasn't going to stick around and find out, so I did a quick search to see if my eyes had deceived me. Here's what I found:


The description of the video from the YouTube user: "weird scene from 300. A goat llama man thing plays some instrument. I don't know about you, but there was a collective WTF from the entire theater when we saw it."

Tell me about it. Anybody have an explanation?


A New Perspective on Tyler Perry 

Some time ago I learned that my fiance likes Tyler Perry movies. I don't know how many she's seen (and I don't think she does, either), but she finds the character of Madea actually funny. We went back and forth for a few weeks about this, me wondering what I was missing and her unsuccessfully trying to explain to me. The only Tyler Perry movie I've seen is his first, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which I saw in the theater seven years ago, before I even knew who Perry was. But I've never warmed to his comedy stylings either on film or television, not because I find it offensive or undignified, but because I've never gone for the easy laughs produced when somebody dresses up as an overweight elderly African-American woman, whether that be Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, or Tyler Perry. I can see why it's funny, but I don't find it funny.

Anyway, my impression of Tyler Perry was significantly changed a couple of weeks ago when I accidentally stumbled onto a "60 Minutes" interview with him after a Sunday football broadcast ended. The episode was highlighting Perry's achievements and the broader public ignorance about not only his commercial success (four of his films have opened #1 at the box office in the last three years alone), but about the man himself (a victim of child abuse and a high school dropout).

What struck me the most was Perry's dogged determination to bring his visions to reality after his pitches and projects were completely rejected by Hollywood producers and studios. He funded Diary with his own money (he had a long and successful career as a playwright prior to film) and has now become the first-ever black producer to own a film and television studio. Talk about laughing your way to the bank - being forced into independent production has meant that Perry keeps a huge chunk of every dollar his films gross (last year he was among the top 15 highest-paid celebrities).

So what does this all mean? That I like his movies and think he deserves to be paid hundreds of millions of dollars? Of course not. But for all the obstacles and rejection he has overcome, and for the positive messages that he is trying to send through his stories, well, I have to admit I have new respect for Tyler Perry. Even if I still don't find Madea funny.

The clips below don't tell the full story, but you can check out the full video here to see the segments where he visits his childhood home (including the cubbyhole where he hid from his abusive father) and shows off his incredible studio and production lot.


  1. Here's my explanation for the 300 scene: Frank Miller must have had it in his graphic novel, so Snyder put it in the film. Beyond that obvious and snarky observation, I'd say that I'm sure Miller did all kinds of research into the creatures, symbols and myths of the time. I somehow doubt Xerces was 9-feet tall, either, or that a hunchback that looked like the one in the film existed. With all legends, the details get told over and over and over again until it all blends and becomes exaggerated.

    The real truth is probably that back in that day, they had festivals (or whatever) where people either wore masks or the actual animal's heads and that morphed into a goatman playing the flute.

    As for Perry, I'm right there with you. It would be inane to not respect the man for what he's achieved, but I might also say the same for Jerry Bruckheimer or Nic Cage, two other mega rich people (oops, maybe not that second one) who've earned massive success despite my thinking that they produce garbage.


  2. I don't have much to say about Tyler Perry, except to say you basically nailed it.

    The Jacko review is dead-on, and yes, it's infectious and a permanent testament to the man's greatness as a performer and dancer. I actually did have the fortune to see it in a packed house (on that opening Wednesday night)who were by and large strangely quiet,no doubt in good measure because of the realization that their hero was now 'with the ages.' I think what we saw though, was a man who was prepared and physically capable of pulling off that torrid concert schedule in the U.K. I agree that Jacko was as intense and focused as any performer in preparation during this simultaneously exhilarating and melancholy documentary.

    As I've stated in the past I was no fan of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (I need to check out Jason Bellamy's review which you link there) but I agree it's visually intoxicating. My grade though would be a C minus. The screenplay was hugely problematic, and never captured the spirit and rollicking humor of Sendak's immortal Caldecott winner.

  3. Pretty interesting insights into the 300 scene, Fletch, and I guess I would chalk it up to a combination between Miller's depiction of the mythology (I haven't read the graphic novel) and Snyder's desire to make everything bigger, better, more ("That hunch in his back doesn't seem big enough - throw a couple more pillows under his prosthetic!"). In any case it was a bizarre scene and didn't intrigue me enough to want to see the rest of the movie.

    And Perry, well I wouldn't say I consider his work garbage (and neither would the millions of people who make him a box office guarantee), but while I don't really connect with it, more than anything I just respect somebody who achieves that much success outside of the Hollywood system, as opposed to Bay, Cage, and other cogs in the machine. And speaking of Cage, here's an interesting study of the guy today by Manohla Dargis.

    Thanks, Sam - that's interesting to hear that a packed house was quiet at This Is It. I just figured people would be unable to control their urge to sing, dance, clap, etc. I think my fiance even caught me playing air guitar during "Beat It". And yes, no doubt that this show would have been one for the ages. He appeared fully in control to me, if not just physically thin (but wasn't he always?).

    I do recommend Jason's review - it flushes out everything I was thinking in a much better way.

  4. I haven't seen 300 either but I would guess a flute playing goat was a reference to Pan:

    Interesting that among other things (from the wiki),"The ancient Greeks also considered Pan to be the god of theatrical criticism"

    I just know him from Jitterbug Perfume where he just ran around and had sex with everybody. It's been a while so the details are foggy but anytime I think about mythology I remember this book.

  5. Fascinating. That must be where the term "pan" comes from in dismissing a work of art? Yeah, I'm pretty far behind on this kind of stuff, people. And let's just keep it a secret that I actually taught sixth-grade level Ancient Civilizations, which included a run down of all the Greek gods.

    I haven't even heard of Jitterbug Perfume, but the synopsis online sounds pretty interesting.

    You've led me to do more research on flute-playing goats than I ever considered possible (and could it be a "pan flute"...?), but I think I've found the final answer: Baphomet, a pagan deity that looks exactly like the thing in this clip. Then again, Baphomet appears to have first appeared about 1500 years after Sparta. Go figure.

    Historical accuracy aside, it's kind of funny that the presence of this thing has baffled enough people to warrant a YouTube clip.

  6. Hey there,
    I sent an e-mail to you a couple weeks ago and didn't hear back. Is getafilm@gmail still the right place to send you e-mails?


  7. Hey Scott, sorry but I can't find any record of it. That's the right email address, though - you didn't get a bounce back? Weird, maybe it went to spam for no good reason. Give it another try and I'll let you know as soon as I get it. Thanks!

  8. The goat is not playing the flute. I tried to analize this scene as closely as possible; The goat is shown holding a stringed instrument, and his hands are furry and black - In the next shot is shows ANOTHER guy playing the flute, this guy has a long and twisted beard, it is NOT the goat, look closesly and you'll see. I originally thought this goat was supposed to be Baphomet, but I looked into it and I'm pretty sure it's a satyr/faun, but they come from ROMAN, not Greek, mythology. The olny explanation I can come up with is that Xerxes does have the power of a God, so he has other Gods come to his tent and enjoy his harem and his opium hookas :) In the commentary on my 300 DVD, The director refers to the creature as simply, a "goat-headed minstrel", a minstrel being an ancient musical performer. I'm assuming the goat thing is either a Faun God or possibly Pan or Baphomet themselves...not totally sure, hope I helped!

    1. Hehe, thanks for chiming in Tommy - that's the best analysis thus far!


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